You've got to feel sorry for the cameraman. That's the overriding feeling you'll have when playing Kane and Lynch 2's story mode.
For all the torture, degradation and misery the two leads endure it's as nothing to what the schmuck holding the handy cam goes through. He falls and stumbles; absorbs impacts and dodges bullets; he gets spattered with blood and sees things no one should have to see.
As working days go it's a living nightmare. But he can console himself with this: he's doing a hell of a job. This bold and revolutionary presentation is one of the things that elevates IO's sequel from basic cover shooter to genuinely thrilling experience.
As plots go it's a grime-encrusted gem told with all the urgency of a Michael Mann movie. In a nutshell: two disreputable ex-cons get embroiled in a Shanghai heist, the job goes awry and all the guns in China are suddenly pointing in their direction. You'll want to be munching popcorn, but you'll be too busy popping heads.
The game is helped along by the duo's unlikely charisma too. It's Lynch who takes the lead this time and he's as engaging as he is unstable. With lank, receding hair, a dishevelled suit and a crazy person limp he's hardly likely to inspire cosplay tributes, but he is a refreshing antidote to the smooth talking, stubble jawed heroes that populate nearly every other shooter out there.
It's Shanghai that emerges as the game's best character though. The plot scampers across the capital's seedy underbelly like a hungry tick, taking us from disreputable factories to neon lit streets to neglected wastelands. It's as alien and dangerous a place as any distant galaxy. One thing's for sure; you'll be too busy just staying alive to have time for sight seeing.
The mechanics at play here are immediately familiar. Run, gun and duck behind something solid when the lead starts flying. It's here though that the jittery camera work does its magic. There's a rawness and urgency to the action that pixel sharp, high def visuals could never hope to better. You feel every impact and, for that matter, every near miss. This is thanks to the blurring and stuttering of the display as it struggles to keep up with the frantic action. The splashes of blood, smearing of light sources and clatter of the microphone are particular highlights.
It's solid and unshowy stuff. The bar raised by Gears of War can rest easy, but Kane and Lynch are too busy surviving three days from hell to worry about that. The twists and turns of the plot offer ample opportunity for set pieces, but for the most part IO play safe and deliver increasingly frantic shootouts instead. Some of these are blisteringly successful. A tense warehouse gunfight against some treacherous former allies and Shanghai's police force serves to ratchet up the tension and underline that cover is only cover until it's whittled into match wood by a stockpile of ammo.
It's a lesson hard learned, but once mastered forces a new tack gameplay-wise. Digging in and popping up for an easy headshot is a one way ticket to the morgue. Being inventive, dancing around cover, shooting through flimsy walls and planning and executing carefully orchestrated pincer movements is the order of the day.
It's here that the game's co-op really shines. There are no gimmicks, there's just gunplay. Like the rest of the game there's a refreshing purity to it. No collectibles, no special moves, no intrusive and overlong cinematic sequences. Just. Gunplay. It's a short, sharp, shock of a campaign that's heavy on action but light on variation. Only a seat-of-your-pants on-rails section really mixes things up.